The import of dung beetles from Africa and Europe, also from Spain, is one of the most paradoxical examples of the important role of insects in trying to solve problems caused by the accumulation of animal excrement in Australia. At the age of 75, French entomologist Jean-Pierre Lumaret, from the CSIRO laboratory (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) in Montpellier, continues to participate in the Australian introduction of the beetle, now arriving from Morocco. As this researcher points out, dung beetles provide essential services to humans for free, however, “the case of Australia shows that if we eliminate them, a serious problem would arise that would have been costly to treat.” Is.”
ask. How did Australia’s problems arise from cattle dung?
answer. The first settlers to come to Australia introduced cattle, sheep, and horses. Previously, there were only a few animals, but in the 1960s there were already 30 million cattle and 77 million sheep. This represents a large amount of excrement, as an average cow produces about 12 dung per day, which means 350 to 400 million defecation per day, 33 million tonnes per year. The problem is that this huge amount of excrement was not recycled in Australia, because the Australian dung beetles that evolved with marsupials were not interested in the introduced cattle dung.
P. why is it important?
R. The role of dung beetles is essential, as they help convert soil microorganisms into animal excrement and recycle them. If manure is not worked by beetles, they remain dry on the ground for many years. Land excreta without recycling occupied a million hectares in Australia, a vast area that meant grazing losses and losses for farmers. But, in addition to this, there is an even bigger problem and that is, with no competition from beetles in dung, hematophagous flies multiply, which bite cattle to extract their blood.
P. What solution was found?
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R. To address the problem of cattle dung in Australia, dung beetles were imported from Africa and Europe. This is an idea developed by George Bornemiza, an Australian of Hungarian descent, who noticed that species of African descent had already been introduced to Hawaii and it worked. Since Australia is a very large country with a very different climate, the species was brought in from continents with comparable climates, from Africa and Europe. The cost of the program was essentially paid for by ranchers, who had to contribute several tens of millions of dollars.
P. What were the results of importing these insects?
R. The first program ran between 1968 and 1982, and 45 species were introduced from Africa and Europe, of which 23 established themselves, multiplied and occupied a portion of Australia. In the tropics, in the north of the country, it worked well, as many species with extremely high yields were introduced. But some beetles of Mediterranean origin were sent to South Australia and the dung and flies continue to thrive there. So for the second time, between 2012 and 2014, I was requested by CSIRO to introduce two new species from France and Spain.
P. Where in Spain?
R. From the south, from Andalusia.
P. Where are the beetle introductions now?
R. A new, broader and more ambitious program was launched in 2017 which will end in June 2023. Again, it is mainly farmers who pay and this time the species we have chosen are of Moroccan origin. With climate change, southern Australia has increasingly hot and dry climates, so beetles had to be selected that were able to adapt to these harsh conditions. In addition, they also tended to be an active species in early spring, when swarms of flies migrate from the center of the country to South Australia. The beetles are collected in Fez, Morocco, and then shipped to CSIRO’s Montpellier quarantine centre, from where they are shipped directly to Australia or used for breeding and passed on to the next generations there.
P. How does the introduction of these exotic species affect the native fauna of Australia?
R. In this case, the beetles selected for Australia are species that do not compete with local fauna for marsupial droppings. We take many precautions to not affect the native species.
P. But such precautions are not always taken in these pest introductions.
R. In the introduction, there are two philosophies. Somewhere it has been done with great care and care so that there is no problem. And in others, assume it’s introduced first and then checked if there’s a problem. In the United States, he introduced two species, which had already been taken to Hawaii and Australia, in the south of the country, in Texas and California, but not with similar morels. is about Digitonthophagus gazelle You eunitisellus intermedius, which after its release in the southern United States gradually moved to Mexico and continued down through Central America until reaching Panama in a few years. The problem is that these introduced species are displacing native species, as they have the same diet.
P. What lessons do you learn from importing beetles into Australia?
R. The dung beetle is a major component of grasslands and they are independent, the case in Australia shows that if we eliminate them, it poses a serious problem that is expensive to treat. The current program costs $20 million to reintroduce only three species.
P. Given the current decline of insects in many parts of the planet, can it be predicted that these species movements will increase between countries in the future?
R. Yes, but it’s a pity. It is more expensive to restore ecological processes than to save them from the beginning. A few years ago I was in the Czech Republic, where the means of production were collective when it was part of the Soviet Union bloc and people could not have their own cattle, in many areas there were no cows in the fields, which led to the disappearance of dung beetles Happen. Now they have begun to transfer species to recover from their fauna. It is possible, but if you want to do it on a large scale, it is very expensive.
P. What is the status of the dung beetle in Spain?
R. Spain has a lot of cattle, but cattle are treated with veterinary drugs that are toxic to coprophagous insects. There are areas where there are thousands of non-recyclable dungs because there are no dung beetles or there are very few. By using these drugs inappropriately, we are doing exactly what Australians are fighting against by paying millions of dollars.
P. Are you worried about what’s up with the insects?
R. We are losing many bugs and the speed is very worrying. There is an Australian colleague who says the following: It is important that Australia imports as many beetles as possible because one day we can resell species that have disappeared from your countries.
P. Do people really know about the importance of insects?
R. off course not. It is a matter of education, but at every level. Even cultured people are ignorant of many things about insects. I have done a lot of training with managers of protected areas, with farmers, even with veterinarians. Many veterinarians treat animals and their jobs end there. This is unbelievable, but many people find that there are drug residues after treatment that affect the dung beetle and which can completely change the way weeds function. They do not know what dung beetles are and their important role in the environment.
P. What can be done to prevent farmers from using drugs that affect insects?
R. In the current program, training is conducted with farmers and veterinarians to learn how to live with dung beetles without using massive drugs that kill them. It’s the ranchers who paid for most of the reintroduction programs, by no means are they the ones who kill them.
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